By Shawn Raymundo

Counties and cities across Southern California will collectively need to plan to construct more than 1.34 million new homes over the next 10 years, the state’s housing department recently determined.

Late last month, the California Department of Housing and Community Development released its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), finding that between 2021 and 2029, the six counties in Southern California will need to prepare for the development of 1.34 million additional housing units across four income categories.

However, the Southern California Association of Governments, a public agency representing the region’s six counties including Orange, believes that the assessment is much higher than what’s actually needed and is now questioning the HCD’s methodology.

“We acknowledge that there’s a housing crisis and are committed to doing everything within our authority to help solve it, but the RHNA allocation process has to have integrity,” Kome Ajise, SCAG’s executive director, said in an email. “We will continue to work with the state to ensure that the determination is on the firmest possible technical ground, and that ultimately the needs of our communities are met.”

The housing department submitted the RHNA on Aug. 22. Under state law, SCAG has 30 days from receipt of the assessment to analyze and review it, determining to either accept its findings or file an objection.

In a 48-2 vote on Sept. 5, SCAG’s regional council authorized Ajise to file an objection to the state housing department over its methodology. The council comprises elected officials from Southern California, including Orange County Board Supervisor Donald Wagner. No official from the tri-city area is on the regional council.

“Overall, HCD did not use the appropriate population forecasts for their determination of the SCAG region’s housing needs and did not conduct a reasonable application of the methodology and assumptions pursuant to statute,” the agency states in its council report.

The Methodology

The sun begins to set on the Rancho Mission Viejo community. Photo: Shawn Raymundo

The RHNA breaks the 1.34 million housing needs figure into four income categories: very-low, low, moderate and above-moderate.

About 26%, or nearly 351,000 housing units, are to be designated for very-low income and 15.3% will encompass housing for low-income persons and families. Moderate-income housing units will make up 16.7%, while the bulk of the housing units—nearly 42%, or 562,252—will be allocated for above-moderate income housing.

According to the RHNA, the housing department’s methodology takes into account the expected population of households, as well as the state’s overcrowding and vacancy percentages by the end of the projection period: October 2029.

“Then we make adjustments based on housing conditions in the region, if that demonstrates pent-up demand for additional housing,” said Tressa Mattingly, information officer for the housing department’s communications office.

The department estimates the number of households in the region to be about 6.25 million in 2021 and to reach more than 6.8 million by 2029.

And using the projection from the Department of Finance, the RHNA estimates Southern California’s population to exceed 20.45 million by October 2029. The region, according to the RHNA, has an overcrowding rate of 10.11%, exceeding the national rate of 3.35%, while its current “for rent and sale” vacancy rate is 2.37%, lower than the standard 5%.

SCAG, however, estimates the population to grow to more than 20.72 million and instead of the 1.34 million homes needed, the agency’s alternative RHNA proposes the region needing between 821,000 to 924,000 new homes.

“SCAG’S alternative proposed determination provides a more reasonable, current, balanced, and technically robust application of HCD’s stated approach toward determining housing needs,” the agency’s report states.

Allocating Needs

If the agency later accepts the RHNA, whether that be an updated one from the housing department or not, it will work on an allocation plan to divvy up the housing needs to local jurisdictions.

Currently, the agency is working on its methodology for how to allocate the housing needs to the cities and counties for the 2021-2029 planning period and has been accepting public input. The period for public comments on that methodology closes on Friday, Sept. 13.

For the current planning period of 2014-2021, Orange County was allocated 5,272 units of the total 412,137 units for Southern California, according to Board Supervisor Wagner.

This past June, Wagner, on behalf of the county, submitted a letter to the chair of SCAG’s committee with oversight of the RHNA, requesting that the agency propose a total allocation of 430,000 housing units for the region from the housing department.

San Juan’s Share

Because the RHNA is not yet finalized, the city of San Juan Capistrano said it doesn’t have any comment on the housing department’s 1.34 million figure at this time.

Development Services Director Joel Rojas stated that the city staff has “been actively engaged in the RHNA planning process since October 2018 and will continue to do so until the City receives its final RHNA number sometime before October 2020.”

According to the city’s 2014-2021 RHNA allocation, San Juan is responsible for ensuring that it can accommodate 638 total housing units within the current period. Out of that total, 23% is designated for very-low or extremely low-income households, 16% for low income and 19% for moderate income.

Rojas notes that the RHNA doesn’t require jurisdictions “to build or provide the needed housing units,” but rather “only to ensure that they can be accommodated somewhere in the community. It is up to developers to come forward and actually propose and build the needed housing.”

With funds that can only be used for affordable housing, the city is currently working with C&C Development toward the construction of a 75-unit facility for low-income seniors on city-owned property called the Groves.

In regard to SCAG’s methodology for allocating the housing needs for the 2021-2029 planning period, Rojas said the city has been actively engaged in that process with the agency as well.

City staff, Rojas said, intends “to provide input to SCAG on assessments and methodologies to ensure the City’s local interests are taken into account.”

The regional council is expected to consider SCAG’s Final Proposed RHNA Allocation Methodology in early November.


SR_1Shawn Raymundo
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow The Dispatch @CapoDispatch.

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